Govt. Deliberately Watered Down Air Bag Warnings in 1993

Govt. Deliberately Watered Down Air Bag Warnings in 1993

Safety Groups Linked with Claybrook Urged Toned-Down Language
December 17, 1996

Arguing that the public should ask some serious questions before being subjected to a "new and improved" air bag mandate, the Competitive Enterprise Institute will distribute documents from 1993 which demonstrate a campaign to dampen warnings to consumers.

While the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration ponders revising its air bag mandate, documents indicate that in 1993 it deliberately chose to adopt watered-down mandatory air bag warnings to appear in cars. Moreover, two safety groups associated with Public Citizen president Joan Claybrook and Center For Auto Safety director Clarence Ditlow successfully urged NHTSA to make this decision. These documents throw even more doubt on Claybrook's claim that her attempts to "warn" the public about air-bag hazards were drowned out by some auto industry "cover-up".

These records will be distributed at a press conference to be held on January 9 at 10:00 AM at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, 1001 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 1250.

"We have to ask the question that if these dangers had not been deliberately downplayed, how many of the children who died due to airbags would still be alive?" said CEI General Counsel Sam Kazman.

In December, 1992, NHTSA requested public comment on what information should be contained in air bag warnings on vehicle sun visors. The American Automobile Manufacturers Association had petitioned NHTSA to include explicit warnings that air bags could "seriously injure" children in rear-facing child seats and occupants who sat too close to the dashboard or steering wheel. But Advocates For Highway And Auto Safety, a group co-chaired by Joan Claybrook, argued that these were "unnecessarily alarming statements" that could "instill anxiety" in vehicle occupants. Similarly, the Coalition For Consumer Health And Safety, whose members include Ditlow's Center For Auto Safety, claimed that the proposed warnings "will inadvertently alarm motor vehicle occupants". Neither Public Citizen nor the Center For Auto Safety filed individual comments. In September, 1993, NHTSA decided not to include the explicit warnings in the mandatory notices.

"NHTSA's decision to require weakened air bag warnings was a cheap attempt to keep the public 'dumb and happy' in order to avoid political unrest. Claybrook's claims of having tried to warn the public are not only false; they are an incredible attempt to re-write the history of her own role in this decision," Kazman added.

For more information, contact Greg Smith at (202) 331-1010 or gsmith@CEI.org.